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What Are the Limits of the Government Interfering with Criminal Prosecutions and the Attorney-Client Relationship?

I was scheduled to begin a trial today in Suffolk Superior Court, which never happened. My client, a woman, had been charged with Trafficking Over 200 grams of Heroin, a Drug Crime which carries a minimum-mandatory sentence of 15 years in state prison.

As insurmountable as the charge might sound, my client actually had an extremely strong defense. The government had no evidence to prove that she had knowledge that the FedEx package that was delivered to her home from India and which was addressed to someone else. Her defense against the Drug Trafficking charge was so strong that, despite her awareness of facing 15 years if she lost at trial, she at all times unequivocally maintained her innocence and rejected several offers by the prosecutor to plead guilty to reduced charges that would not result in jail time.

The prosecutor initially offered to reduce the charge of Trafficking to the lesser offense of Possession With Intent to Distribute (which doesn’t carry a minimum-mandatory sentence) if she agreed to three years’ probation. She said no. More so than anything else, she couldn’t bring herself to change her plea to guilty in open court and admit to something that she didn’t do. She continued to maintain her innocence, even up until the day of trial, when the prosecutor offered just a Guilty finding, without any probation or any committed time so that she would be free to walk out of court that day.

Seeing that the client wouldn’t budge and was resolved in putting the government to proving its weak case against her by going to trial, the government engaged what I maintain are ‘bush league’ tactics…

Just days before trial, and without my knowledge, the lead detective on the case against my client called the defendant’s family. He proceeded to tell them the ‘grave’ penalties that my client was facing if she lost at trial, and that it was in her ‘best interest’ to just take a deal. This communication to the client’s family, without my knowledge, was no doubt done to scare the family into convincing the defendant to just take a deal. The client’s family called me in a panic…they were convinced they said, even though they knew the client was innocent, she had to take a deal.

Well, it worked…the client ended up taking an “Alford Plea”…meaning she changed her plea to guilty but without admitting any wrongdoing and she was released shortly thereafter. A woman, who had denied any wrongdoing, and who did not have any previous arrests, let alone convictions, is now a convicted felon, must submit her DNA to the state’s DNA database, will lose her Driver’s License for 3 years, and will suffer all the indignities and collateral consequences of having a felony drug conviction follow her for the rest of her life.

If the government believed so strongly in the case against her to bring forth an indictment for Trafficking, why then practically beg her to take a plea on a reduced charge?

If the government’s case was so strong, then why employ the police detective to engage in scare tactics to her family in the hopes of them convincing her to take a deal?

At the end of the day, if the government doesn’t have a good faith belief in the cases they indict, then either don’t prosecute or don’t be afraid to be put to the test at trial.

File under: Bull….